A historic town that is thousands of years old and 199 settlements are expected to be flooded in southeastern Turkey as the controversial Ilisu Dam films up, an activist has warned.
Sociologist Ali Ergul from the Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive told the T24 news portal that a total of 199 settlements and the town center of the centuries-old Hasankeyf could be partially or totally submerged by the end of October if the dam reaches full capacity.
“A total of 80,000 people live in those settlements and the town. The water could also cause economic problems for additional 20,000 people who use the area in winter for animal husbandry,” Ergul said.
Located in Turkey’s southeastern province of Batman the Ilisu Dam is one of the 22 dams of the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), which is a regional development plan that aims to boost hydroelectric power production, irrigation, and agriculture in the region.
The dam is expected to produce 3,800 gigawatt-hours of electricity annually to Batman and generate 1.3 billion Turkish liras ($228m) annually.
Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government started filling the huge hydroelectric dam in late July despite protests by activists that it will displace thousands of people and destroy the historical heritage of Hasankeyf.
The 12,000-year-old Turkish town of Hasankeyf, a site of huge cultural and ecological importance that sits on the bank of the Tigris River in Batman, could be underwater if the controversial Ilisu Dam is filled.
A 13th-century palace of the Artuqid dynasty, a 15th-century mosque and the ruins of a Byzantine citadel are among the treasures of Hasankeyf. Eight monuments, including half of a Roman city gate and the hulking Zeynel Bey Mausoleum, have been relocated to safer ground at a plain that is two miles away from the town.
Hundreds of graves in Hasankeyf are also being moved and thousands of people leave their homes as the area prepares to be flooded by the waters behind the dam that continue to rise every day.
Ergul, in her interview with T24, highlighted that one person had died in the reservoir in early August.
“We are talking about an area with no safety. The danger is becoming greater and greater and it is approaching Hasankeyf.”
He indicated that many animals had drowned in settlements already partially submerged and the rising waters of the dam also threatened at least 100 endemic plant species that are classified as endangered, according to research conducted in the area by environmental organizations.
The activist also referred to the “New Hasankeyf,” a town built by the AKP government on the opposite bank of the Tigris with more than 700 houses. Relocation there for the displaced thousands has been met with sustained resistance by locals and the international community.
“The houses are still not completed. Schools in old Hasankeyf were closed. Education season has started in new Hasankeyf but there are no students to go [to schools] there. Most of the families cannot send their children to school due to the lack of a school bus or a similar service to cover the long-distance,” he explained.
Calling everybody to join their struggle to save Hasankeyf, Ergul said: “A serious and irrecoverable destruction is in question. We call everyone to come and save Hasankeyf and avert this devastation. We still have hope and we call everybody to raise that hope with us.”
Controversy over the dam — in particular the failure to properly address the displacement of people as well as the archaeological destruction, prompted the British government to in 2000 to cut $236 million in funding. German, Swiss and Austrian export credit agencies pulled $610 million for the project for similar reasons.